Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4: Review

Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4
Publisher: Warner Bros. / Traveler’s Tales
Platform: XBox 360
(also available for DS, Wii, PS3, PSP and PC)
Release Date: June 29-30, 2010
Players: 1 or 2
Rating: E for Everyone 10+
MSRP: $49.99 US

Lego Harry Potter: Years 1–4  is the latest Lego game from Traveler’s Tales.  It takes us to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and is presented with all the charm and wit the Lego video games have come to be known for.  It should be no surprise that this is the best playing game of the lot.  I have a soft spot for Lego games, and even though I have read all the Harry Potter books and seen all the Harry Potter movies to date… well I guess that does make me a fan.

The combining of the Harry Potter world and the Lego world is seamless.  It’s almost as if the Harry Potter world was created to be brought to life in a Lego video game.

This game, as the title states, covers the first four years, or the first four books if you are not familiar.  Each year is divided into six sections or chapters that are unlocked one after the other as they are completed.  The books covered are Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone), Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire.  There is some creative license taken with the stories  to make them less dark and more child-friendly but nothing that stands out or feels out of place.

The pace of the stories is rather quick, condensing each of the books into only six story segments.  It certainly didn’t hurt me being familiar with the stories as several of the cut-scenes would otherwise make little sense.  That by no means makes the game unplayable but it could leave some scratching their head over things like Dobby getting a sock from Harry or knowing who many of the over 100 characters are in the game.   But chances are, if you are going to play this game, you have probably read the books or watched the movies, so this point is trivial.

Players start in the Leaky Caldron, a pub used in the stories as a gateway between the wizard world and the non-wizard world.  From there, Diagon Alley provides access to shops where unlocked characters, spells, gold bricks and red parcels can be purchased with collected Lego studs.  It also leads to Gringotts Bank where all of the bonus levels and level creator tutorials are locked away for safe keeping.  You’ll need to collect gold bricks to earn your way into each of the bonus vaults.

Unlike previous Lego games, all six chapters from each of the four books are connected to the same hub world.  This is the central area through which you access all of the story lines – and it’s a huge one, sprawling all through Hogwarts Castle and the school grounds.  Fortunately a ghost named Nearly Headless Nick is forever lingering to guide you to the next part of the story whenever you would like to continue.

Much of the game has you playing as one of the main characters from the stories; Harry, Ron Weasley, or Hermione Granger.  The characters each have various magic abilities that step in for the familiar Lego actions.  There are eight color coded categories of spells and items affected by a certain spell sparkle or glow with the corresponding color.   Potions play an important part in game play also.  In particular, the polyjuice potion allows you to change your character into another unlocked character for a short time.  There are also potions for aging and strength, both required at points to solve puzzles.  Even with this wide variety of spells and potions available, it’s all very intuitive because they are introduced one at a time as they are learned over the four school years represented in the game.  Ron and Hermoine each have a pet, a rat and a cat, which allow the player to travel through small spaces.  Hagrid’s dog, Fang, is a playable character and is useful (as is Hermoine’s cat) in digging up buried items.  Harry’s owl is also in the game and replaces the post box for delivery of red brick parcels back to Diagon Alley where they can be purchased to unlock special features and cheats.

The graphics are truly spectacular with vivid, lush backdrops obviously influenced by each of the movie sets.  Many of the cut-scenes are direct Lego remakes of scenes from the original movies.  The characters are animated brilliantly but one stands out to me; the Hungarian Horntail dragon in the Triwizard Tournament from Goblet of Fire.  For a character built from Lego bricks, it will make you wonder how they managed to motion capture a real dragon.  In my opinion, this is where artistry enters into gaming.

The puzzles in this game are a little different than those in Lego games past.  Some are more simplified such as the bookcase puzzles (repeating patterns on a 2 x 2 grid rather than 3 x 3) while others such as the scavenger hunts use parts of the architecture to hide some items nearly out of sight, behind a pillar for example.  Many areas and puzzles require the player to be a character belonging a particular school house, either Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin.  Without being familiar with the characters and their house associations, it is somewhat difficult to tell their house by their appearance.  The characters each have a crest and neck tie in the color that represents their house, and even on my 61” HDTV it is difficult to tell which is which when using the polyjuice potion.  Eventually generic characters for each house are unlocked which solves this problem.  If there was one thing I could change in this game, I would make house affiliations more obvious by making the colors a bit more prominent, but this is really nit-picking.

While this game has the same split screen multiplayer feature introduced in Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues, there is no online play.  So, if you have grown accustomed to playing Lego Indiana Jones 2 online with your friends, you’ll need to make room on the couch and invite them over to co-op at Hogwarts.

There are a couple of much talked about glitches in the game, both of which my family encountered.  The first involved trolls in security uniforms.  They were blocking doorways marked by the “ghost arrow” as the next place to go to continue the story.  This is technically not a glitch.  There is no way to move the trolls from the doorways and the ghost is leading you to the correct place, but there is more than one way to get where you need to go.  The second was an actual problem with no current work around.  For completists, there are 200 gold bricks to be collected in the game.  One of them, even after completing all the related tasks, and seeing the brick appear and collecting it, may not be properly recorded therefore leaving you one brick shy of having all 200.

“Glitches” aside, the biggest problem with this title in my house was my getting a chance to play it.  After the first few hours of playing, my three year old wanted to jump in and help.  Then my wife got interested.   We had rented the game for this review but quickly realized we all wanted to play this game long beyond the five day rental.  My wife dropped off the rental then went straight to the store to purchase a copy.

The bottom line is that this is a great family game for parents and children alike.  Harry Potter fans will get an extra kick from this game and probably find themselves pulling the movies or books out for another view or read, and so be it.  I can only hope that Lego Harry Potter: Years 1 – 4 enchants your family the way it has mine.

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  • Great review. I’m really looking forward to some two player action as my wife is a hige Potter fan and the Lego games are ones that w play together